About: Optimus Yarnspinner, a young dinosaur aspiring to authorly fame, has a problem. His writing mentor’s last wish was for him to travel to the far off city of Bookholm and find the author of a mysterious, unsigned manuscript. What’s a dinosaur to do? Off he goes, unwitting of the dangers awaiting him in Bookholm—and its underworld, the Catacombs. Published 2004 in Germany.
The City of Dreaming Books was translated from the German (and before that, from the “Zamonian,” as you will read!). I rarely read translations, but I’m so glad I read this one. A friend recommended it to me. In fact, she did one better: she bought a copy and gave it to me. So I knew it had to be something special.
And it is.
What I Loved: (1) The illustrations!!! Oh my. I LOVE illustrations and adult books rarely have them. They are absolutely delightful and done by the author himself. (2) The world of Zamonia, its city of Bookholm (doesn’t that just sound so German?) and the city’s underworld, aka the Catacombs. (3) The clever humor. There are several clever bookish jokes—including a subtle one that runs throughout the entire book—and they’re a lot of fun to discover.
This book is so completely unique, I guarantee you’ll never find another book like it. Unless it’s by Walter Moers, of course.
What I Didn’t Love: (1) The characters didn’t draw me in the way my five star reads must. Five star books must make me really care about or at least be interested by a character. Unfortunately, I never became invested in the main characters of this novel. Not to say that I didn’t grow fond of a few characters, but there was very little psychology or soul-searching (what I’ve heard termed “interiority,” in the writing biz), and I personally need that element if I’m going to adore a book. (2) The tension and pacing didn’t dazzle me, either. I loved the adventure, but without better pacing, tension or interiority to keep me hooked, it unrolled too slowly to keep me reading all night. The setting details slowed the plot waaaay down. (3) This book lacked the precise, poetic or lyrical prose that often contributes to a compelling atmosphere or mood (as in, say, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys quartet). This may be because the book is a translation (and I’m afraid this is one reason why I tend to avoid translations, although I’m sure this is an unfair tendency of mine that I should quash without mercy). However, I almost always find this device necessary in a five star read, and while the unique setting, illustrations and humor of this book lent it a certain atmosphere (one that I occasionally found delightful), the prose itself lacked the necessary care to compel me onward with continual delight, foreboding, intellectual interest, etc.
Recommendation: Even though this book wasn’t a five-star favorite of mine, I think it could be a five-star for a certain type of reader. It is very clever and well-written. I think it will probably appeal quite a bit to any booklover who is looking for a unique adventure and would score “thinking” over “feeling” on the Meyers-Briggs personality tests. You doesn’t even need to be a fantasy-lover to love it. This is a book for bookahalics, and the nods to book culture are everywhere! The bookaholic who recommended it to me isn’t a big fantasy reader and she told me it’s one of her all-time favorite books.